What happens when you finally voice your opinions over the unbearable harassment that you’ve had to face? You are ridiculed, you are blamed for having filth in your mind; you are indirectly under suspicion in everyone’s eyes and all this, for what? Only because you raised your voice against something you do not want to endure anymore. Sexual harassment is an unwanted sexual advance, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical behaviors of a sexual nature which need to be killed by raising your voice.
One would think that a woman going public with accusations of sexual harassment against a man and then facing a severe reaction would not be so common in 2018. But in Pakistan, it continues to happen. On April 19, a Pakistani pop star, Meesha Shafi, published a media report on Twitter accusing Pakistan’s star actor Ali Zafar of sexually harassing her after that she face a lot of negative remarks. In fact, in recent months, Pakistan has had a prolonged #MeToo moment. The country did not experience the same stream of stories and a major spike as the West in the fall of 2017.
Shortly before the sexual abuse scandal broke out with Harvey Weinstein in the West and the #MeToo movement in the world, in August 2017, Pakistani MP Ayesha Gulalai alleged that her party’s chairman, Imran Khan, had harassed her sexually. Prime Minister Shahid Abbasi supported Gulalai and supported the creation of a parliamentary committee to investigate the issue.
Now question which need to address is that is this all above incident come into the domain of sexual harassment? In general terms, there are two types of sexual harassment: the quid pro quo and the hostile environment. The quid pro quo (which means “this for that”) sexual harassment occurs when it is said or implied that a person must undergo sexual conduct in order to participate. For example, if an employee is led to believe that a promotion is likely if the employee has an appointment with the employee’s supervisor, the employee may be subject to “quid pro quo” sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment in hostile environments occurs when unwanted conduct of a sexual nature creates an intimidating, threatening or violent or is so severe, persistent or pervasive that affects a person’s ability to participate in daily life. For example, a supervisor may sexually harass a supervisor or a student may sexually harass a faculty member.
Now it is on a person to decide either they are part of harassment which is happing to them or not, if you are involve in harassment happening to you than you cannot claim yourself a victim you are infect abettor of that incident.
There are two legal provisions governing sexual harassment throughout Pakistan: Section 509 of the Pakistan Penal Code and the Workplace Harassment Protection Act, 2010. Both of these laws apply to the whole country and are consistent with the constitutional provisions of Pakistan’s international commitments, such as the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.
Under the penal provision, sexual harassment against women in public places is now a criminal offence. The law can result in up to three years’ imprisonment and/or a fine of up to Rs 500,000. Making sexual harassment a criminal offense is a welcome development. Unfortunately, the title of the section is problematic and shows that legislators have not fully understood the underlying issues of harassment and why this is happening. Section 509 is entitled “Insult to Modesty and Cause of Sexual Harassment”. The word modesty is subjective and can be interpreted at the discretion of the presiding judge. This is problematic and his interpretation is open to abuse.
The Law on Civil Protection against Harassment of Women in the Workplace provides a comprehensive system for reporting and dealing with harassment in the workplace. The law requires organizations including all workplaces to clearly display a code of conduct in a conspicuous place in a language that all staff members understand.
The code, which is fully enacted in the law, provides the minimum standards of how employees, management and owners of organizations should behave in a work environment and includes a definition of what constitutes sexual harassment.
The Sexual Harassment Act has the potential to catalyze positive change in our attitudes towards women in the workplace, and the law and the creation of the Ombudsman’s office are good starting points.
However, for the law to be a realistic deterrent and to reshape social attitudes towards sexual harassment, effective implementation and consistent oversight are essential. In Pakistan, cultural norms about what is expected of women, unequal power relations in the workplace and lack of a supportive environment are some of the reasons why sexual harassment is endemic. The Ansari incident is an important step in the fight against harassment in the workplace.
Yet it is an example of a woman speaking with many people who do not want to or cannot do it. For meaningful progress to be made, we will have to go beyond simple legislation to enable an effective campaign by the state and civil society around the issue. An example is the #metoo Phd international online campaign, a hashtag created to allow university employees and students to share their experiences of sexual harassment.
To rid the workplace of inappropriate and inappropriate behavior by male colleagues, it is important that the system operate in a timely and efficient manner, and that a supportive environment be provided to those who speak out. Beyond the fundamental rights of all, progressive and strong organizations must surely recognize the importance of an environment free from harassment as both a more productive victory and an economically sound choice.
This article is written just to help anyone out there who is confused what is happening to them either it fall within the domain of harassment or not and who is concerned about how to move forward. Now that the floodgates have opened around the subject of sexual harassment, it doesn’t matter who you are or what industry you are in. When it comes to your career, this quote is more important than ever:
“Credibility takes a lifetime to build, and one second to lose.”
There are 1000s of professionals out there right now that are one Tweet or blog post away from having their careers ruined. Do they deserve it? Yes. However, I also believe there are millions more out there who haven’t made a mistake yet. But, without the right coaching, could become the next Harvey Weinstein and ruin their lives. These are the people I want to help. Intimidation, harassment and violence have no place in a democracy. Mo Ibrahim.
The writer is an Advocate High Court Islamabad and teaches at the Best Law College, Rawalpindi.